In a December 13 ruling, Hungary's Constitutional Court restricted the use of diversion to drug treatment for some drug offenders, narrowing the scope of reform legislation enacted in 2003. In so doing, it also explicitly rejected an argument that the laws against drug possession are unconstitutional, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union reported.
In its opinion, the Constitutional Court appeared to embrace positions on addiction that are not supported by facts. Illicit drugs are more dangerous than licit ones, the court reasoned. "The risk of alcohol addiction is much lower than the risk of addiction to illicit drugs, because the time and dose necessary for the development of addiction is very different and the acute harms of use are much lower," the judges opined.
Actually, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when measured by habitual use potential, or the number of people who have ever used a drug recently, alcohol far exceeds all currently illicit substances.
The court also reasoned paradoxically that drug use leads to the "loss of personal freedom" and therefore personal freedom may be abridged to fight it.
Of more immediate impact, the court modified the Hungarian Penal Code by restricting certain drug users from being allowed to seek drug treatment in lieu of criminal prosecution. Under the reforms passed in March, 2003, people who possessed or shared small amounts of proscribed drugs could choose diversion. But in its opinion, the court said that people who share drugs do not qualify because the term to describe the act, "collective use," is ambiguous.
The court's decision did not sit well with the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), which was already suing to force the court to make public submissions made in the case. "There are many problems with this decision," said Balazs Denes, HCLU executive director. "The ruling abolished paragraphs [in the criminal code] which tried to approach a reality-based legal differentiation between drug traffickers and drug users. The court used its power to change the criminal code from one day to another. Even the Parliament, which usually practices the legislative function, gives time for society to prepare for the changes, but the Court now changed the rules without setting such a timeframe. To top that, some parts of the reasoning used in the decision reminds us of the old-fashioned American propaganda movies from the thirties. Only one Judges' dissent opinion contains known, quoted and researchable information on the drug phenomena; the rest based their arguments on false beliefs and stereotypes, without having consulted any experts in the matter."